All posts tagged: cih
In case you missed it, the Conservative Home website launched an extraordinary attack upon the Chartered Institute of Housing this week.
Edited by Hammersmith and Fulham Councillor Harry Phibbs, the article claimed that the Institute’s £10 million annual income comes “overwhelmingly” from the taxpayer – in conference fees, membership subscriptions and other forms of public support. The anonymous writer highlights some of the allegedly controversial courses that the CIH offers – on emotional intelligence, advocating mediation rather than eviction for troublesome tenants and, shock horror, pushing the “intrusive and divisive” diversity monitoring agenda. The article suggests that housing officers should attend these courses in their own time and at their own expense.The CIH is also accused of being highly political, attacking the government over welfare reform and making the “case for more state housing – for more subsidy, dependency, drab standardised egalitarian conformity.”
The CIH chief executive, Grainia Long, has provided a spirited response to the Conservative Home article.
But I’m puzzled by this. Why is the CIH being singled out for attention when many other professional bodies working in the public sector receive similar support in terms of training, conferences, subscriptions and consultancy? The RIBA, RTPI, RICS are all partly supported by public funds. Is this part of a wider attack upon social housing, a brick-by-brick dismantling of the principles and ethos of our sector, or am I being paranoid? Is Harry Phibbs just flying a kite that is not representative of Conservative Party views or does this represent grass-roots opinion - a view that the days of state-sponsored housing are numbered? Either way, it shows that we need to re-double our efforts to get our message across to the wider public and to politicians in particular.
I have to hand it to the National Trust for running an exemplary campaign against the draft National Planning Policy Framework. They wrote to every one of their 4 million members and issued hundreds of daily appeals and tweets during the three months of the consultation period. They effectively hijacked the debate on planning and their backers in the right-wing press, mainly the Mail and the Telegraph, banged the drum on their behalf. By contrast, supporters of the NPPF like the Home Builders Federation, the CIH, the NFU, the CLA and the NHF were relatively silent. Yet at the end of it all the Trust obtained the signatures of just 4 per cent of their members, a paltry 200,000 signatures, for their oxymoronic “Planning for People” petition.
So lots of sound and fury but not signifying very much. Government ministers have not backed down on the broad thrust of the NPPF and although the NPPF only applies to England David Cameron has pledged to protect the “beautiful British landscape” from development (which presumably means that the less than beautiful parts of the landscape will not be protected!)
So far so good for developers and those in housing need.
But the failure of the Trust’s tub-thumping shows that the planning process remains a remote and alien concept for most people. It is because the planning system is hard to understand (it is something that is done to us rather than by us) that the National Trust had to resort to scaremongering tactics to agitate their members. They repeatedly used images of ancient woodland and rolling countryside in their propaganda as if these areas were at risk from development, when clearly they are not. They know very well that if they had instead told the truth and said: “We need to build 5 million homes over the next twenty years and this may mean building on about 1% of the unprotected, and therefore not particularly attractive scrubland that surrounds our towns and cities” they would have garnered even less support.
This view of planning being the preserve of an elite is reflected in a recent poll of 416 local government councillors, carried out by ComRes. 64 per cent of them felt there was a lack of robust evidence of public opinion in planning discussions, and 75 per cent of councillors believe that the “silent majority” is excluded from debate about planning issues. The silent majority was defined as those who are “perhaps likely to benefit from new homes or use the facilities provided by development, but are less likely to participate in the planning process than the more vocal minority, who can object vigorously to proposals”.
The real tragedy of the NPPF consultation process is that the countryside has dominated the debate. Why has this been allowed to happen? Planning is overwhelmingly about cities. 90% of us live in towns and cities and the future of our planet depends upon the sustainability and success of city living. For the vast majority of people the issues that pre-occupy them are urban issues – the quality of life in their neighbourhoods, the trains and roads that will get them to work, the quality and affordability of their housing, the quality of local services like schools, healthcare, parks and open spaces. Most people have little interest in the countryside, and as the National Trust has itself said, many people are wary of venturing too far into the countryside for fear of encountering a “No Trespassers” sign or an angry farmer. The Withnail and I view of the countryside resonates with many urban dwellers.
The NPPF’s presumption in favour of sustainable development was the issue that engendered such a knicker-twisting frenzy within the National Trust. Yet amidst all this hysteria the many positive aspects of the NPPF have been ignored. These include: the clear structure of local and neighbourhood plans; the potential for planning to become a genuinely participative and democratic process; the potential for neighbourhood development orders to give communities real power and influence over planning decisions and to capture the benefits of development for their own area; the chance to build the number of new homes we need, at last; the opportunities to green our cities, to make them more vibrant and provide sustainable transport systems.
All of this has been lost in what I consider to be a selfish and self-obsessed countryside campaign. It is interesting that bodies who really understand the countryside, like the NFU and the CLA, support the NPPF. They know that the countryside has to change and develop if it is not to stagnate.
I think it is time for the National Trust and their supporters to pipe down for a while and allow the silent majority, the town and city dwellers who have the most to gain from the NPPF, to have their say.
Should the news that several universities, including Birmingham, have stopped offering housing degree courses worry our sector? I think it should. A recent article in Inside Housing set out the two main reasons for the decline – a lack of funding from employers and a lack of interest in housing. But I think it highlights a deeper malaise about the complacency of the sector in attracting the best and brightest to its ranks. Most people I talk to in housing have “fallen into” the profession by chance – it was never presented as an option at either school or university.
Perhaps part of the problem has been the long-term deprofessionalisation of the sector. When I started in housing at Camden Council over thirty years ago the adverts for most senior jobs required the MCIH qualification as standard. Few do now. At that time the CIH saw itself as on a par with the RIBA and RICS as a proper professional body, and I can remember the effort that was put into getting the original Royal charter. If you don’t need the qualification, why bother to study?
Now, it seems the CIH no longer sees itself as a “professional” body in the old sense of the word. On many occasions I heard Sarah Webb (may she rest in peace) say that professionalism meant “being as good as you can be” whether you were a caretaker or a chief executive. I’m not sure I ever agreed with her. If I was about to go into the operating theatre I wouldn’t want a surgeon who was “as good as he could be” but one who had endured years of rigorous training and knew a hawk from a handsaw, so to speak. When I started studying for the professional qualification at Hackney College back in the eighties we were given a thorough grounding in all aspects of housing – its laws and history, how houses were built and how plumbing and drainage systems worked. I can still remember the dimensions of a brick. It often felt tedious at the time but in retrospect I can see its value – it gave you a sense of the bigger picture that allowed you to fit all the constituent parts of the sector together. How many people in our sector these days get this kind of grounding?
Many housing degree courses are employment related. A quick look at the figures reveals that surveying now has over 100 degree level courses, architecture around 50 and housing only 25, down from 30. Yet there are over 60 degree courses in the more or less worthless “media studies”. I think what we need is to find a way to make housing a first-time degree of choice for people who may not even enter the sector. Perhaps by wrapping up housing in a wider field of study, such as “housing and sustainability” or “housing and city management”. This could hook people in and make them interested in the subject over the longer term.
This may make me sound like an old fogey (I am) but my main point is this: I wrote here a few weeks ago about Jane Jacobs and the fact that, with more people across the globe now living in urban areas than outside them the way we build and run our cities will be critical to the future of the planet. The “art and science of housing” (a lovely phrase in the CIH charter) will be a critical element in the way cities and towns are run. If we are not recruiting and retaining the best people to the housing sector then we could compromise that future.
I’ve been reading Sarah Webb’s speech at Harrogate in which she makes a passionate defence of our sector and challenges some of the attacks being made upon social housing.
If, like me, you have been reading some of the reports from Policy Exchange and other think tanks which link our sector to “Broken Britain” then you may be wondering if your career in housing has been a waste of time.
Sarah describes her reasons for entering the profession – a geography study trip to a slum area of Glasgow “where kids with no shoes ran about the streets showered in broken glass and disused needles”. At the end of the trip the kids started pelting her coach with stones.
In my case it was a university study trip to Brixton where we visited some terrible private rented properties being renovated by Lambeth Council. We spoke to some of the residents who described how the new homes had transformed their lives.
Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of people in the sector about their reasons for working in housing and the vast majority “fell into” it after trying other things. Is this because we don’t sell ourselves properly, or because the sector has such a poor image?
The CIH charter talks about the “art and science of housing” and this elegant phrase sums up its appeal for me. Housing has something for everyone, from nerdy technical stuff at one end of the spectrum to creativity, design and psychology at the other. All human life is here and we often deal with people at crisis points in their lives. Housing staff can face anger, tears and heartbreak, but they also see the improvements that good housing can make to people’s lives.
In other words, housing is a profession suffused with drama. Which set me thinking about the portrayal of housing professionals on TV and in the cinema.
I remember when “Cracker” first appeared and the number of students wanting to study forensic science soared. I’ve always felt the CIH should invest in a good script for a TV drama that would show housing in a positive light with all the light and shade that the profession can offer. It could be a better recruiting tool than a mountain of glossy leaflets.
I can think of few positive portrayals of our sector on TV. Michelle Fowler in Eastenders springs to mind, and there was an awful housing officer in a Mike Leigh film. Perhaps Inside Housing readers can come up with some others? Has the recent documentary “Neighbourhood Watched” had any impact upon recruitment to the sector?
I don’t know, but perhaps we should commission a survey to find out why and how people entered the profession in the first place. At Harrogate last week it was suggested that we need a Jamie Oliver for the housing profession. But cooking is theatre; housing is drama.
Wanted: a Cracker for the housing profession.